|Opening title of Italian TV movie version|
|Opening title of German TV version|
Italian title: L'isola del tesoro (Treasure Island)
German title: Der Schatz im All (The Treasure in Space)
Director: Antonio Margheriti
Writers: Renato Castellani & Luca de Caro
Adapted from Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson (1883)
Bavaria Films, RAI Radiotelevisione Italiana, TF1 Films Production
An Italy/ West Germany co-production
I must confess to never having heard of Treasure Island in Outer Space until I began examining Margheriti's credits with more scrutiny. One can't help but feel that the title was originally the pitch: "Let's make Treasure Island but set it in outer space!" "Great idea! What are you going to call it?" "Er..." Of course, Disney came up with a more succinct title fifteen years later when they ran with the same idea. The Italian's just stuck with Treasure Island for their version, dropping the sci-fi angle completely.
I have been unable to find any information as to how this show came to exist, so can only look at the scant details available. It was an Italian/ German co-production shot in Italy, at least as far as I can tell. The cast are a mixture of Italian and German and other European actors with Ernest Borgnine and New Zealand's David Warbeck thrown in. Despite the countries involved it appears to have been shot in English, and screened on German television, although comments on the IMDB suggest than an edited down version was shown on American television as a TV movie. It is currently available on YouTube in its original format of individual episodes, yet although the IMDB claims there were five episodes, there are seven listed on YouTube. I guess I'll find out as I work my way through them which is true. Someone seems to have gone to the trouble of reassembling each episode combining available elements, so for the most part this first episode is in English, but then it randomly switches to a German dub, including for Borgnine, highlighting which parts did not appear in the US TV version. There is also a VHS rip of the Italian language version, which appears to be in two parts, each over three hours long. From what I can tell it must have been presented as a two part TV special, and subsequently released on VHS. This version is entirely in Italian, and sadly has no English subtitles. However this version is even longer and features more footage than the German version. I will try to make comparisons where I can between the two.
As far as I can tell this is the only television series Margheriti directed, and it came between two of his Lewis Collin's action films, Commando Leopard (1985) and The Commander (1988). This proves Margheriti was nothing if not versatile. Perhaps he was asked because of his knowledge and experience in shooting space operas back in the 1960s. Each episode is just over fifty minutes long and appears to have been shot on 35mm, so he effectively directed a five-hour film.
David Warbeck had worked with Margheriti before in some of his action films, and had a long history of Italian exploitation, most memorably as the male lead in The Beyond (1981, Lucio Fulci, Italy: Fulvia Film). When he worked on this series he was right in the middle of a run of sleazy films including Formula For a Murder (7, Hyden park: la casa maledetta, 1985, Alberto de Martino, Italy: Fulvia Film).
|David Warbeck in Margheriti's The Ark of the Sun God (1984)|
Ernest Borgnine, the man with the biggest eyebrows in show business, seems to have nipped across from Croatia to work on this, where he was appearing in a double-bill of made for TV Dirty Dozen sequels. His character is the driving force of the first episode, and it is easy to see why Margheriti would want to cast such a high profile actor for what is effectively a cameo.
My plan here is to intersperse blog posts on Margheriti movies with episodes of Treasure Island in Outer Space. Perhaps by the time I complete the final episode my German will have improved and I can understand all the extra scenes.
Without further ado, let's dive into episode 1:
If you have read the book, or seen any of the dozens of film adaptations, you will be in familiar territory here. Despite being set in outer space this adaptation follows the original very closely, in this first episode at least. Even the character names are the same, right down to Squire Trelawny, a most Cornish-sounding name, but here he is in the future, played here by French actor Philippe Leroy. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's set the scene.
In the German version the opening credits role over an impressive sequence of a spaceship taking off from some sort of of landing pad. It is a short sequence but does feature Margheriti's name at the end. The Italian version has a much longer credit sequence, this time over a spaceship landing and docking. It's another excellent example of Margheriti's skill with miniature work, and as the credits continue to roll we see the passengers disembark, including Ernest Borgnine's Billy Bones. He gets a whole sequence of arriving and going through some version of passport control. This is entirely missing from the opening of the German episodes, which is what I'm mostly going with for the rest of this analysis.
|A mostly abandoned former spaceport.|
The episode opens on an impressive matte shot which makes it very clear we are in the future. A boy runs towards the camera, and it pans round to the left, following him, revealing a large ruined temple with a fancy red hovercar parked close by. It is the car to which the boy is attracted, but the driver soon pops out from behind a pillar and is none too pleased to see him.
|Look no wheels!|
This boy is of course Jim Hawkins (sometimes called Jimmy), the hero and narrator of the book. An older Jim is providing a voiceover throughout this episode, and his younger onscreen self is played by Italian child star Itaco Nardulli, who tragically drowned just a few years later at the age of 17. Jim spins round to see none other than Billy Bones (Ernest Borgnine), the owner of this flashy car, something which is not often seen around these parts. To make sure we know this is the future, Billy Bones is wearing massive shades.
|Ernest Borgnine is cooler than you|
Those ruins look genuine, which means they must have shot in either southern Italy or possibly Sicily. Jim's mother runs a nearby inn, or space-truck stop, and Billy's looking for a place to get a drink. Instead of the traditional pirate tipple, Billy drinks "drok," and he drinks it hard. It's a wonder his liver has survived this far around the galaxy. Billy is also looking for a place to stay, so takes a room upstairs and has young Jim become his personal valet. He has a large trunk and a bag, from which he pulls an ugly china doll which he refers to as "Miss Giselle."Old men with dolls is creepy at the best of times, but Borgnine manages to make the audience almost recoil in horror at this weird old guy with a doll fetish.
|Miss Giselle is watching you|
As for Miss Giselle herself, I kept waiting for it to get up and start killing people, Annabelle-style.
|Jim Hawkins (Itaco Nardulli) is not as afraid of Miss Giselle as he should be|
Of course, if you know the book, you'll know that Billy Bones is hiding something, from some pretty bad people, and it doesn't take long for them to turn up, including Blind Pew (Biagio Pelligra), whose cane has a beeping movement detector and built in blow torch, and Black Dog (Bobby Rhodes). This latter gentleman, a fellow pirate, pretends to be friends with Billy to trick Jim into revealing his whereabouts. Once the two meet they argue, with Black Dog claiming they will have to split whatever it is 50-50. Billy is having none of this, they fight and Billy ends up being stabbed in the side. Black Dog splits and Jim gets him medical help from a local GP, Dr. Livesey (David Warbeck). Billy buries something out by the temple, and keeps talking about some treasure, and a map. All very mysterious and exciting for a small boy. But before long the rest of the pirate gang turn up looking for the map too. Unfortunately for them Billy has already died and Jim and his mother have found the map, hidden in a secret compartment of Billy's case. And guess what opened it? That's right, the creepy doll. She started to talk, which triggered the mechanism.
|Dr. Livesey (David Warbeck) does not approve of Jim's ponytail|
The pirates arrive by helicopter, presumably representing an old, stolen piece of technology compared with the much more futuristic hovercars and flying saucers we've seen passing overhead. They ransack the place but have to leave empty handed whilst Jim and his mother hide in a shed with some massive turkeys. Blind Pew dies when he falls from the helicopter as they escape, and Jim ends up telling everything to Dr. Livesey and Squire Trelawny. He shows them the map, which is actually a blank piece of paper. "It's written with sympathetic ink!" cries Dr. Livesey, and they spend the next two hours trying to get it to reveal its secret. Eventually, after exposing the map to light, it begins to glow. Where will it lead? Stay tuned to find out!
|X marks the spot|
I was really impressed with this first episode. It's far better than the hokey title would suggest. It is well made, with excellent photography and special effects, and the acting is top rate. The model work in the opening titles is reminiscent of Gerry Anderson, or Margheriti's Gamma One films, and I'm excited to see more once Jim Hawkins gets out into space. It's a real pity that it switches to German occasionally, but those bits are clearly not crucial to the plot so it is worth putting up with. Given the high calibre cast and director it's a shame that this has not had an official DVD release of some sort. If the original elements are still sitting in a German film lab somewhere this would probably scrub up well. It would also be good to have a box set release with the Italian TV movie version, as this clearly runs to around seven and a half hours, and has a lot more cool footage, especially in the opening titles, as well as more scenes which presumably flesh out the story and the characters. In that version, for example, Billy Bones meets the doctor earlier in the story whilst downstairs in the inn, whereas in this version the first time we see Dr. Livesey is when he's called on to help.
I am now looking forward to the next episode, and having discovered the Italian version I'll try and make more close comparisons, despite speaking no Italian whatsoever.